Data regarding industrial disputes from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has shown that for 2011/12 there has been a significant increase in disputes and days lost in the labour market – sparking debate on both sides of the political fence.
Business leaders have pounced on the figures, which show that despite the standard variation between quarterly figures, an upward trend can be discerned – with annual days lost rising by 83% from 159,800 in 2011 to 293,100 in 2012. This is the highest figure since 2004.
“While this occurs from a low base, the rise should concern to governments as much as the business community,” said Peter Anderson, chief executive, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“These figures underestimate the impact of industrial strife, because they don’t record the spike in unions issuing notices under Fair Work laws threatening strikes, and costs caused when businesses make concessions to avoid those threats,” Anderson added.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the increase in lost working days confirmed there were "some big problems in the Fair Work Act that need to be addressed".
The ABS noted that the combined Education & Training and Healthcare and Social Assistance industries accounted for 67,800 (67%) of the total number of working days lost in the June quarter 2012.
Given this figure, some have questioned whether the Fair Work Act is to blame, as the health and education sectors fall under state government jurisdiction.
Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten said he took "very seriously" the increase in working days lost to industrial disputes but blamed conservative premiers for contributing to the rise.
Pointing to large disputes involving teachers and nurses, Minister Shorten said the federal government, as opposed to the states, believed in co-operative workplace relations.
"If you want to look round for some of the scallywags in terms of days lost, you'd be well off ringing the speed dial of state conservative premiers," he said.
Minister Shorten said the number of days lost under the Gillard government remained lower than the levels recorded under the Howard government.
Opposition Workplace Relations spokesman Eric Abetz said Shorten must "deal with the militancy problems generated by the Fair Work Act".
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